Independent Women and Fairytale Endings
I had a realisation almost a year ago which shook my down to my soul. It took a long time to come to terms with and challenged a large portion of my self-identity. Now I look back on it, it really wasn’t that earth-shattering. I realised that I needed someone – needed in a way that made me profoundly uncomfortable because I felt as though it challenged my identity as an independent woman. It wasn’t even the recognition that I needed people, my family or my friends; it was the fact that I needed one, very specific, man. What self-respecting feminist needs a man? Aren’t we supposed to be perfectly fine without them? Sure, they’re nice to have, but life goes on without them, right?
Well, yes, life does go on without them, but in this case I wanted to do everything I could to make sure that my life went on with his. Sounds kind of mushy, now I read it. It’s true, though. And this fact made me deeply unsettled.
In current western society, girls and young women are trapped between two ideals of what they should be. Disney (among other culprits) makes their business out of telling girls that one day, if they are pretty enough, a handsome prince will solve all of their problems, sweep them off their feet and carry them into their happily ever after. The expectation is that they’ll marry one person, have beautiful babies and perpetuate the hetero-mono-normative lifestyle. This is turned slightly on it’s head once they get older. Young women are told that they can be whatever they want to be. They should solve their own problems, stand on their own two feet and not let their self-worth be decided by any man. There seems to be to be a dichotomy in here somewhere. We tell girls that the pinnacle of female achievement is snagging a decent man, then tell them a little later on that they must be independent women.
Well, which is it? Am I supposed to be the damsel in distress who is rescued and carried off into the sunset? Or am I supposed to be the strong woman who should depend on no man? I know I’m exaggerating the point and that there’s more variation than this, but these seem to be the strongest messages.
I’ve known for long enough that I don’t fit into the norm. No 2.5 children and a dog, no traditional marriage and I am NOT giving up work and staying home to raise a family. That all fits quite nicely into the independent woman ideal. Really nicely. So my difficulty lay in the fact that I had this view of myself as an independent woman, but that I felt like I was straying into the damsel in distress role by admitting to myself that I needed a man. That was really, really scary. If I need this man, does that mean I’m not independent? Do I lose my autonomy? Do I become one of those simpering women who sacrifice everything they hold dear to be with their One True Love? Does it mean I should abandon poly to be with just him?
This is all further complicated by the prevalent view in poly communities that we should be happy as individuals and not expect other people to make us happy. I am happy as an individual… I am just happier when I am with my man (and woman, of course, but my relationship with her developed after this realisation). Does this mean I’m doing poly ‘wrong’? There seems to be such an emphasis on individual happiness that there is no room to admit that you can be happy by yourself, but that other people can make you happy to and that this is not a bad thing. Needing someone does not make you reliant on them, or make them responsible for your happiness. I have happiest when I am with the people I love. Contemplating life without either of them is deeply scary and something that I never want to experience.
Yes, I need this man. I also need a certain amount of independence and autonomy. I also need to be polyamorous. I need a whole host of things that don’t make me a damsel, and that don’t make me any less independent.